This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.
The slowing — that’s what everyone calls the change that began in October. The Earth’s rotation slowed, and the 24-hour clock became irrelevant. Days and nights grew progressively longer. Gravity was affected, so things in motion were less in motion: Birds dropped out of the sky; soccer balls were harder to kick and footballs became harder to throw. With so many hours of sunlight, trees and other vegetation withered and died. Some people suffered from gravity sickness. Eventually it was called the syndrome with symptoms of dizziness, faintness and unexplained pains.
The reader experiences the onset of this noiseless catastrophe through the eyes of Julia. She is 11 years old — a quiet, sensitive, only child living with her parents, Joel and Helen, in coastal California. Julia is a careful observer of changes taking place and of how the slowing impacts relationships. Her parents aren’t getting along, and her best friend moves away and then returns, but no longer wants to be friends. Julia’s family tries to adapt to the many changes and conform to the 24-hour clock that the government mandates to help people adjust to the slowing.
Julia admires Seth Moreno from a distance. They have the same piano teacher and the same bus stop. She notices and likes everything about him, even the way he sneezes. One day when another boy bullies her, Seth tries to come to her defense. Over time, Seth and Julia become friends; but Seth is moody, in part because his mother is dying from cancer. He is inconsistent in how he interacts with Julia, and she is never sure where she stands.
As days stretch to 32 hours, Julia realizes how much her friends are changing as they progress through adolescence. She is not sure whether it’s just the age they are or if it’s due to the slowing. They are growing in different directions. One friend is all about boys, fashion and being sexy. Another is into black — dyed black hair, black clothes, black nail polish — and lots of piercings. One day, Julia’s father brings home a telescope for her because he wants her to learn astronomy. She observes a few stars and planets, and she finds it useful as well for looking at nearby bodies. The clearest view she finds is Sylvia’s house across the street, where she goes for piano lessons. She can see right into the woman’s living room.
Julia likes Sylvia and is friendly with her, even though Sylvia is 40. When Sylvia decides to become a real-timer, choosing to go against the government-set clock, Julia’s mother ends Julia’s piano lessons. People who become real-timers are isolated — society shunning them as freaks — and many of them move away to form their own “daylight colonies.” Near Christmas time, Julia delivers cookies to Sylvia, against her mother’s wishes. Julia remarks to Sylvia about her lack of a Christmas tree; she is gratified a few days later when she sees that Sylvia put up a tree. As Julia admires Sylvia’s tree, she sees through the parted curtains that Sylvia is home, and a man is with her, Julia’s father. He has his arm around Sylvia’s waist, and he kisses her. Julia doesn’t tell her mother what she knows, but she suspects that her mother already knows.
The days now last 48 hours, and Julia’s mother gets the syndrome. The diagnosis is made after she passes out while driving; her car strikes and kills a pedestrian. Helen’s health worsens, but later it improves slightly when Joel lies and lets her think she only harmed and didn’t kill the pedestrian.
Julia and Seth’s relationship deepens toward the end of sixth grade, and they spend as much free time together as possible. One night during a solar storm (a white night, meaning the sun is still shining), they decide to go out into the dangerous sun and spy on Sylvia’s house to see if she comes out. They are surprised when she does come out, followed by Joel, carrying suitcases. The kids confront him when it appears he plans to go off with Sylvia. He sends them home. Whether Joel actually planned to leave with Sylvia or was only helping her move out is unclear. But Joel does eventually come home and begins to exhibit a new care and tenderness for his wife. The next morning, Julia and Seth awaken with severe sunburns — the sun had burned them even through their clothes. Seth becomes very sick but then recovers.
By August, the days are 72 hours long, and Seth becomes ill with the syndrome. His condition quickly worsens, and soon he can’t walk. His father decides to take him to Mexico. Though Julia writes letters to him every day for weeks, she never again hears from him. By the end of the book, Julia is 23, and the days are weeks long. Life has gone on in many ways, and Julia is considering medical school if she can find one still operating. The experts predict life on the planet will last only a few additional years.
The classrooms are half full because so many students have left. Julia says it’s as if some had been taken to heaven, the way some Christians believe. Following a solar eclipse, a woman passes out flyers that say, “The end is now! Repent and save yourself!” Then she shouts through a car window: “And the Lord God said, ‘On that day, I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.’ ” Julia asks her mom if it’s a Bible quotation.
News on the radio reports that born-again Christians are making final arrangements in expectation of the Rapture. A televangelist mentions signs of the Revelation and the restoration of Israel. Another says that all the birds dying are a warning from God and that humans will be next.
Helen’s car accidentally collides with a bearded robe-clad pedestrian. One of the man’s flyers lands inside her car. It reads: “Attention all sinners. The trumpets are sounding, and the end is here. Repent or face the wrath of God.” Reminiscent of the apostle Paul, Helen tells Julia she shouldn’t spend so much time thinking about the past, but look to the future (Philippians 3:13).
Julia’s best friend, Hanna, is a Mormon. Most of the Mormons leave their homes to gather in Salt Lake City, believing that the slowing means the end is near. Hanna tells Julia that the Mormons have reserved a square of land at the precise location of Jesus’ return. A Jewish family, always dressed in black, is seen honoring the Sabbath by walking rather than driving and not using electricity or the television.
One of Julia’s friend’s has a mother who is into astrology. Julia says the school nurse talked like a “fortune teller reading palms.” Julia comments that the students left behind are the “children of scientists, atheists and the simply less devout.” Julia’s friend Gabby believes she’s had past lives in which she always died young. People who refused to live by the government-set clock are referred to as naturalists, herbalists, holistic-health enthusiasts, healers, hippies, vegans, Wiccans, gurus, New Age philosophers, libertarians, anarchists, radical environmentalists, fundamentalists, survivalists, and back-to-the-landers — contrarians.
Julia’s mother, Helen, a former actress, tends to overreact, so even Julia has trouble taking her seriously at times. The family is nominally Christian. Helen tells Julia not to say God’s name when Julia uses it in vain. Her mother’s alcohol consumption increases along with the stress of lengthening days. She tries to get Julia to spend more time with her and to talk about boys, but Julia dodges her mother and the subject. Helen says the slowing can’t be blamed for everything, and people must be responsible for their own actions. She reminds the family that they should make a point to celebrate good things in spite of all the bad things that are happening. Though she is frequently ill and stressed over her husband’s behavior and the slowing, Helen is somewhat upbeat and often tries to focus on the positive. She learns about Julia’s interest in Seth and suggests inviting him to dinner.
Julia’s father, Joel, is an obstetrician. He is cautious about Julia’s intake of sensationalized news about the slowing. He uses his position as a physician to cover for his relationship with Sylvia, telling his family that he has to work late or stay at the hospital overnight. Even as it becomes apparent to his wife and child that he is not at the hospital, he persists in lying. His relationship with Julia understandably changes when she finds out about his relationship with Sylvia. Julia begins lying to him and becomes flippant in her responses to him. When Joel picks her up from Michaela’s party earlier than expected, he correctly senses something is wrong and asks Julia about it. She is not honest about what happened, and he does not pursue it. Though he looked like he would leave his family to be with Sylvia, in the end he stays and begins to show consideration toward Helen.
Julia’s grandfather Gene is 86 and bitter about having lived so long. He has a habit of telling Julia disaster stories, such as the time he saw a teen trampled by a horse. He encourages Julia to have her parents take her to church every week instead of only sometimes. Sylvia, Julia and Seth’s piano teacher, leans toward New Age beliefs. She tells Julia how humans have poisoned the earth and its inhabitants, and now humans should “let the earth guide us.” One of the schoolteachers tells a student to watch his language when he curses.
The parents of Julia’s friends are career-oriented and out of touch with their children. Michaela’s mother, for example, moves in with her wealthy boyfriend and his son, Josh. They allow the boy and Michaela to have an unsupervised sleepover for Michaela, with only Julia and Michaela, Michaela’s boyfriend and Josh in attendance. Josh tells Julia that she was invited only because Michaela’s mom wouldn’t let Michaela’s boyfriend come unless someone responsible was there; and Julia, unknowingly, was meant to be the responsible one. But when the mother leaves, she tells Josh he’s in charge.
The Lord’s name (Jesus and God) is frequently used in vain and is used with awful and d–mit. Though not heavily used, other language includes b–ches, crap, holy crap, h—acious, h—, s—, holy s—, bulls— and the f-word with you.
Julia is bullied at the bus stop when a boy teases her about whether she is wearing a bra and pulls up her shirt to expose her breasts in front of the other middle school students. Julia is in her mother’s car when it strikes and kills a pedestrian. She describes the position of his body and how one of his knees bends the wrong way. Fourteen members of a suicide cult are brought through the emergency room of the hospital where Julia’s mother is treated. Their condition is briefly described, including fingernails turning blue from arsenic.
Julia’s father kisses her mother on the cheek. Through a window, Julia sees him embrace and kiss Sylvia, a neighbor and her piano teacher.
Julia talks quite a lot about bras. She would like to get a training bra, but her mother doesn’t go along with the idea. When a bully at the bus stop pinches her (having just snapped the bra strap of another girl in the group), then announces to the group that she isn’t wearing a bra, Julia insists that she is even though she isn’t. The bully tells her to pull up her shirt so everyone can see her bra. Taking advantage of her hesitation, he pulls up her shirt exposing the fact she lied and humiliating her in front of everyone.
Noticing that one of her friends already has a bra and many boyfriends, Julia comments that a girl “isn’t born knowing how to give a hand job.” A school nurse talks to the girls about menstruation.
Seth and Julia hold hands while lying in the grass. Alone at Seth’s house, they put on swimsuits and kiss while in the Jacuzzi.
Hanna says that while her family was away in Utah, a Mormon boy snuck into her bedroom through the window, and they spent the night kissing in the top bunk while her sisters slept in the same room. Gabby kisses Keith, the boy she ran away with.
While at Michaela’s party, the kids watch whatever they want on TV; they linger on a lengthy sex scene. Playing a type of hide-and-seek game in the dark house, Josh finds Julia hiding and joins her. He makes several attempts to kiss her, but she evades him. Michaela wears a bikini at her party.
When Sylvia is injured after a tree collapses part of her house, Julia’s father carries her into his house. She is wearing a thin nightgown that exposes her back, and her breasts are visible through the thin material.
While searching for Gene in Circadia, Julia and her parents notice a young couple making out.
Alcohol and drugs: Julia’s parents drink scotch, beer and wine. Gabby’s parents find her drinking wine when they finally locate her in a daylight colony. The kids at Michaela’s party drink beer; Julia only takes sips. Though not specifically said, some of the college-age girls in Circadia appear stoned. They laugh uncontrollably, move slowly and have red eyes.
Smoking, tattoos and Internet relationships: One of Julia’s friends, Gabby, who is 12, is sent to a strict Catholic school after she starts smoking cigarettes. Gabby tells Julia that she’s going to give herself a tattoo of the sun and moon on her wrist with a sewing needle and black ink. She offers to put one on Julia as well. Gabby has an online relationship with a 16-year-old boy (so far as Julia knows), who is a real-timer. She runs away to be with him.
Suicide: A suicide cult of 14 people drinks arsenic on New Year’s Eve, believing that the world is ending.
Guns: Julia’s grandfather has a dusty old rifle in his house. He tells Julia to remind him to teach her how to use it the next time she visits. The house where Michaela and her mother stay has two rifles and seven sheathed knives in the “safe room,” a vaulted room full of emergency supplies.
Lying: After Julia learns that her father has a relationship with her piano teacher, she becomes disrespectful toward him and lies. For example, she says she was at soccer practice when she was not. She lies to her mother, telling her she’s spending the night with Hanna when she is really with Seth. Julia’s father lies to his family about more than his relationship with Sylvia.
Literary mention: “All Summer in a Day,” Animal Farm, Tom Sawyer and The Diary of Anne Frank
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